As new H-1B season begins, Microsoft renews call to loosen rules on foreign workers

Brad Smith, Microsoft general counsel

It’s the start of an annual tradition, and the revival of a perennial debate.

Today is the first day for companies to submit petitions to employ highly skilled foreign workers in the U.S. under H-1B visas in 2013 — a program used by many U.S. tech companies to allow engineers from China, India and other countries to work here.

The program has raised objections over the years from labor groups and others who contend that people on H-1B visas are taking jobs from U.S. workers.

However, Microsoft and other companies that use the program contend that it helps the economy in the long run to bring these workers to the U.S. They say the current restrictions on the program are too severe.

In a post today, Microsoft’s Brad Smith called on Congress to move ahead with reforms, pushing for the Senate to pass the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act that was approved overwhelmingly by the House last year.

“The bill would replace the discriminatory ‘per-country’ limits on employment-based green cards with a merit-based, first-come-first-served system, but it has unfortunately stalled in the Senate. The Senate should act now and pass this important legislation. Congress should also pass legislation to help ensure that the U.S. can retain top foreign students who complete their education at U.S. universities, rather than driving them away after graduation to compete against us in other countries.”

Given the high rate of unemployment across the U.S., the initiative could face an uphill climb, but Smith notes that unemployment in the technology sector is less than 4 percent.

The limit on H-1B petitions for the 2013 fiscal year is 65,000, and federal officials say the first 20,000 petitions for people with master’s degrees or higher are exempt from the cap.

  • Bhupathi

    Why don’t Microsoft export those jobs to India instead of importing talents out here…!?

    • Aajajjddl

      They probably want to use a location that has running water.

    • Satalink

      Because there’s no real talent in India.

  • Hjjkhgfd

    Microsoft laid off 5,000 American workers and then had the nerve to send Gates to Congress a couple months later to beg for more visas. So we’re supposed to trust them?

    • Anonymous

      Microsoft likely laid off some code drones. The visas are for people with masters and PhDs in computer science. The kind of guys who will architect solutions that other code drones will go on to code for the next 5 years. Not too many in that pool that are indigenously produced.

      Your point is a case of comparing apples and oranges.

      • Jkkddddf

        They are importing ENTRY LEVEL WORKERS.  The one attractive attribute they possess is a willingness to accept slave wages.  I’ve worked with h-1b’s for 13 years now and the idea that they are “geniuses” is completely laughable.  But you know that, right?

        • Anonymous

          What is laughable is your ability to infer “geniuses” from who I refer to. I spoke about employees with graduate degrees in computer science. Quite simply, Americans are a minority in any pool that aggregates students pursuing graduate degrees in STEM fields.

          As a 22 year old American CS graduate, I likely face the choice between a $70k job as a code drone or going the next 6-7 years getting a PhD where I can make no more than $20k/year. Fast forward 8 years. Unless, I have managed to layer some decent amount of enterprise or innovation on my job as a code-drone, I am now eminently replaceable with my $120k/year price-tag and no unique selling point.

          MS may simultaneously want to fire my ass and hire an H-1B with a PhD in computer science. Not exactly mutually exclusive choices. 

          • JkDdddf

            So it would be better for Americans to get rid of the h-1b visa? Thank you for making my point.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Roy-Lawson/670514336 Roy Lawson

            “As a 22 year old American CS graduate…” no disrespect – I’m sure you are a smart person for your age and experience.  But the H-1b was sold as something to fill shortages and very special skills.  At 22, unless you are some child-prodigy, you aren’t bringing much to the table.  

            You lack experience – and instead of an American student getting experience it will be you.  I’m sorry, but 22 year old recent grad with a 4 year degree isn’t what I have in mind when I think of “best and brightest” or “specialized”.  I run a .net user group at a local university and there are recent grads who have been unable to find work – despite very good grades and intern experience.  When I was going through college recruitment on campus by tech companies was heavy, but now it seems rather light.

            You may be highly motivated and a great worker, but this is really about the future of my nation and my profession.  Despite what that Microsoft lawyer says, unemployment is high in IT (he was cherry picking data) and wages have been stagnant for the last decade – not to mention a wave of offshoring that we must battle.  

            This isn’t Y2K, and at this point in time it is simply not appropriate for Microsoft to utilize the H-1b program to hire 22 year old CS graduates.

            Microsoft may pay higher wages to H-1b workers than some of the more nefarious companies (Infosys, Wipro, Tata and other Indian body shops come to mind), but at the end of the day they need to make a good faith effort to hire locally.  They aren’t doing that.  Shame on you Microsoft and double shame on this corporate attorney who is betraying American IT professionals.

          • Smrtmn9

            Roy, 
            Where do you live ? and why do you think the data is cherry picked? And since when does number of years of experience in IT a benchmark for caliber? Do you want me to give you examples of bright people who didnt make it to school? Infact, almost every one of the most innovative thinkers in the silicon valley are in their early twenties. The lawyer is right in saying that he could not find people to employ, he even gave numbers on how many open Jobs he has and how difficult it is to find an employee (average time to find someone is 63 days) In california you go walking down the road with a resume which says UI development – you will get hired in 10 minutes. 

            Your argument of Wages being Down for the last 10 years has very little to do with H1b. a Gigabyte of memory costed a fortune 10 years ago – It costs almost nothing now – even on a pendrive!!!- do you blame the H1b for driving down the prices of computers too ? 

            I can almost bet on it – that the 22 Year old CS programmer is better than you considering the time you spend on these forums VS doing some real programming. 

            What you Call your profession is not really yours. It is Built By companies like Microsoft and Google which really are companies built by Immigrants and the H1bs. Their revenues come from Outside North america and they have every right to hire who they see fit. 

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Roy-Lawson/670514336 Roy Lawson

            “Where do you live?”
            In the United States of America.  Immigration law isn’t written to satisfy Silicon Valley bud.  

            “and why do you think the data is cherry picked?”

            Because, among software developers the numbers are far higher.  If you look at managers – who are seeing unemployment rise also – the numbers are lower.  I know the BLS numbers well and they paint a different picture.  What the lawyer should be saying is that “unemployment in IT since 2008 has effectively doubled” – because if you have tracked the numbers you will see that is what happened.

            “And since when does number of years of experience in IT a benchmark for caliber?”

            Since forever.  Young people may be energetic and have new fresh ideas, but they don’t have the foundation to apply them… sorry but you can’t pick up everything there is to know about enterprise application development in 6 months.

            “…and they have every right to hire who they see fit. ”

            That’s not how a democracy works.  In this nation we have a representative government that decides who can enter this country.  They have the right to hire whomever they want that has a legal right to work.  We decide, not them.

            I don’t believe that a 22 year old CS graduate should be considered someone possessing unique skills and approved for an H-1b visa – especially at a time like this when unemployment is high.  We need to be putting American workers to work. 

            To make matters worse, the top sponsors of H-1b visas are also offshore outsourcing firms.  It’s riddled with fraud and abuse.  

            If you are an American IT worker it is in your benefit to lobby against the H-1b visa.  American workers have been insulted by Silicon Valley executives for long enough.

          • Smrtmn9

             In this nation we have a representative government that decides who can enter this country. - That is exactly the POint, And the representatives have overwhelmingly voyed in favour of this Bill which lets people get Green cards at the right time instead of waiting 6-7 years, thereby not letting consulting companies hold them hostage. 
            They have every right to hire who they want – I repeat – Because this is a free market. If you dont want them to Hire who they want and want them to hire only US citizens, Please ask them to stop shipping to other nations, That way – People from other countries will go back to their Home bases and setup shop there. 

            I agree with you on the Outsourcing and L1 visa Abuse(note i did not say H1 as i dont believe there is that kind of abuse on H1 as it is on L1) But those loopholes are being tightned (google Neufield memo) 
            BTW – this Bill has little to do with H1b, this is about Permanent visas (green cards) you probably might want to do some remedial reading before you get into a debate like this one. 

            Finally – there is absoluetely no data available on the Number of IT contract jobs available which is where the H1b’s come in. The reason people hire H1b is because they cannot find the right people at the right time at the right location for a 6-12 month Gig. It is not because H1b’s charge less ( prove to me that they do, I will concede) Alleging that the whole IT managerial workforce of America is commiting treason by not hiring Americans and hiring foreigners is not just absurd but also sophomoric.

          • Fred

            what drugs are you on, it is quite obvious you are insane

          • Smrtmn9

            Stands up – claps. 

            Fred, I did not expect a rational discussion or debate on this forum. Just personal attacks against someone you dont know. Just like The above “poster boy for Anti Immigration” roy lawson is attacking Microsoft which is probably one of the best things that happened to america since 1776. 

            Get a Life Fred, Someday. 

          • Fred

            how do you get a h1b visa for a 6 month job? you talk with forked tongue, read 
            Talk2alien 
            who admits he is a slave 
            and works for peanutsAre you so stupid not know the senate and congress are bribed (lobbyists))
            India charges %100 duty on car imports
            they are total hypocrites in this area

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Roy-Lawson/670514336 Roy Lawson

            I’m confused as to your status.  Your alias says “H_1b” yet your comments seem to indicate otherwise.

      • justspareme

        I’ve worked with your kind, and was not impressed at all, so I don’t know which cereal box your masters are coming out of!

    • Guest

      The company has begged for more visas every year. As Indian_H1B says below, you’re really comparing apples to oranges. The 5000 was a general layoff in the midst of a recession and because MS failed to cut back employment earlier in that year like Google did.

  • Guest

    “Given the high rate of employment across the U.S.,”

    employment -> unemployment

    • http://geekwire.com Todd Bishop

      Thanks for the help – fixed.

  • http://twitter.com/AzalpYerbua Azalp Yerbua

    This is a program that needs to die.

  • Insightful

    Discrimination against US born resources is still alive
    and well at Microsoft. Over the last 10 years there has occurred a huge shift to India
    resources, both onshore and offshore, and as employees and contractors. My
    guess is 3/4 of resources currently working at and for Microsoft are now of India
    origin. Why? India resources are culturally and economically very much like slaves.
    US resources are not so much. With this latest push for opening up access to
    unlimited H1B resources Microsoft management wants to do the same ramp up using
    China resources. Unbridled greed makes people do strange things, like throwing
    out all ethics, morals, and patriotism to their own country.

    • Also note

      Keep in mind that India resources do often have very good technical skills, so that does make them very good additions.

      • justspareme

        I’ve worked with your kind, and was not impressed at all, so I don’t know which cereal box your masters are coming out of!

    • Not_really

      More than 50% of MS’s revenue and virtually all of its growth these days comes from outside the US. So why shouldn’t its employee base mirror that? Why should 40K of the 90K+ employees be centered in Redmond?

      • Indian_H1B

        Wait, you’re intelligently reasoning with a guy who just peanut-buttered a fifth of the world as wannabe slaves?

        • Fred

          but you though it was cool for them to layoff 5,000 code drones while lying to Washington that there is a shortage of tech workers, these corrupt morons are destroying our country, Bill should of went to jail for lying to congress, perjury, by the way bill uses his profits to do experimental vaccine tests on India’s poorest – he is a very bad person 

    • Talk2alien

      poorest most joke of the year …. indian it technocrates are slaves and available at low cost….. who ever said that may be billing way too much to sit on the chair… or cant compete with highly skilled indian technocrates… h1b program is not new…. USA needed proud Indians like me to come work and help them solve their complex problems. if USA technologiest are so great at their skills why they let the need arrise to have h1b program? even worse, why they let demand of h1b workers increased day by day?

      • justspareme

        I’ve worked with your kind, and was not impressed at all, so I don’t know which cereal box your masters are coming out of!

  • Guest

    The government investigated Microsoft and found them in violation of H1B law. They were bringing in H-1B workers from Canada and refused to pay one of them for months until he threatened to report them: 

    http://tinyurl.com/7lhq6yc  

  • David_nachman

    We could not have asked for anything more  . . . We encourage politicians to give this new approach a common sense look:  “The bill would replace the discriminatory ‘per-country’ limits on
    employment-based green cards with a merit-based, first-come-first-served
    system, but it has unfortunately stalled in the Senate. The Senate
    should act now and pass this important legislation. Congress should also
    pass legislation to help ensure that the U.S. can retain top foreign
    students who complete their education at U.S. universities, rather than
    driving them away after graduation to compete against us in other
    countries.” – We at the Nachman Phulwani Zimovcak (NPZ) Law Group, P.C. continue to seek visas for the highly skilled who bring jobs and economic stability to our nation. We commend those Congresspersons willing to take a step in the right direction and to support this approach.

  • http://www.facebook.com/SoftwareJunction TheSoftware Junction

    In an interconnected world it is both money and labor are increasingly mobile. you can no longer restrain jobs to your geography just like you can no longer restrain worker to a geographic location.

  • Mary Waterton

    I despise Bill Gates. He has more BILLION than he could spend in a 10 lifetimes and yet he still wants more. Outsourcing American jobs while insourcing internationals. Such a greedy man.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kathrine-Mya/100003635639109 Kathrine Mya

    pretty cool post

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HO5DJCTIHY5UMZLZ2VQ7B2AXZA Leon

    please pass HR 3012 so high skills get grren card job, to make moneuy by house and you pay me rent. Onlty racists oppose so racists pass bill now! WE go home tyou sorry nobody to do jobs that need brains.

  • Satalink

    We need to organize a lobby against H1-B L-1 visas and the practice of exporting jobs or “out sourcing”.   I suggest a tax that balances out the financial appeal for American corporations to screw American workers.   Lobby / Occupy WS 

  • J

    Whenever I’ve had the torturous task of finding capable employees, I find that only a handful of candidates even come close to being passable. That handful is made up of every kind of race, creed, gender, country of origin. Considering such a small percentage of people are qualified, it’s absurd to think of race as a factor in the decision.

    Having said that, there is a major difference between American-educated Indians (people from India) and American-educated Americans (including Indian-Americans). Some schools seem to crank out CS master’s degrees for Indians – USC, Virginia Tech, etc. I have no idea what’s going on in those schools, but these graduates are completely clueless. They couldn’t solve one low level problem, write a stitch of code, had any experience. Americans who get master’s degrees from those schools are much more competent.
    I haven’t done the research, but I got the sense that some schools allow foreign students a lot of latitude, collecting their outlandish foreign tuition, printing MS degrees by the boxfuls for Indians.
    I find companies buckle under the pressure of filling chairs in times of need. They lower their standards until they get to anyone with a master’s degree that is also cheap and keeps their mouths shut. That’s basically a H1B slave. But the thing about slaves is that they could care less about the quality of their work. Their primary objective is to keep from getting sold up the river, by any means necessary.
    It’s kind of cute that the young Indian man (Indian_H1B) thinks a master’s degree means fast tract to architect, without ever being a code drone. That’s the kind of arrogance that only comes with ignorance. Hopefully, that’s an ignorance that life will beat out of you in the next 10 years, not some culturally Indian trait. Sadly, my experience has been the latter.

    I don’t see color when I hire the most competent, the geniuses. To fill all the other seats, I prefer not to deal with arrogant people with a separate agenda, who could care less about the group and the community I live in.

  • gjvc

    P&G is pushing engineering firms to hire more foreign engineers for a lower billing rate!!! There impossible to work with and driving mill people to quit do to inept ability to communicate with them. Slow death. Canada is is build a new refinery in Calgary. They are using all engineering from India. They are wondering why the pipe line was put on hold!!! I have been off for three years now and I am being reminded about my 3 year gap. Its hard finding a job and I don’t know how long its going to last.

  • greg

    The 2000 to 2006 H1B allowance, marked the beginning of Microsoft rocketing to the bottom of the innovation heap in the tech industry .. late, buggy projects, me too products (Zin, Zune) that failed in the marketplace. Microsoft’s myopia about Indian techs/engineers have nothing to do with “the best and the brightest”, but a Orwellian Double Speak for the “meekest and the cheapest”.

    Microsoft needs cheap labor at all employment levels in the company to maintain its margins on old/dated products while Bill, Paul, Steve and other founders sell off their positions to a fraction of pre 2000 levels.

    Microsoft’s culture (given its business history of acquiring products) does not tolerate internal innovation and the (American) personal that would learn, evolve and branch off to join or start other companies companies from their Microsoft stints is abhorrent to the founders and culture. H1B employes are meeker and easier to intimidate, keeping the carrot of citizenship sponsorship just beyond their grasp.

    Microsoft had it’s 6 year H1B stint and has little to show for it, both in a micro and macro sense. The only bump from cheap foreign labor is in the bank accounts of the former founders.

    The old adage applies, “fool me once, shame on you – fool me twice, shame on me”; but like their old dated products, Microsoft takes the world in general for fools and will keep hustling the same old crap till it just doesn’t sell anymore